A brief visit to the Land of the Long White Cloud

By ANDY BOREHAM (安柏然)

 

I’d been in Shanghai ever since the start of this new, mystery illness that we all knew had started to take hold in Wuhan, Hubei province. For 40 days in a row, right during the darkest period, I made video reports every day to help people in Shanghai and around the world understand what was going on here.

Over that time, my life revolved around novel coronavirus, or COVID-19 as it would later be called. That’s why I now feel, at least in a very general sense, that I’m pretty clued up about everything to do with the virus, especially when it comes to how Shanghai and China have battled it.

That’s why I was disappointed when news emerged that cases were climbing rapidly in my home country, New Zealand, and they weren’t being dealt with how I felt they should be. People were still going about their daily lives as usual, no one was wearing protective gear like masks or gloves, and our government seemed clueless in the face of an epidemic.

Then our Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced, seemingly out of nowhere, that all passengers flying into New Zealand, including Kiwis, would need to undergo two-week quarantine. I was taken aback, both by the suddenness of the announcement and by the seriousness of the measures. New Zealand’s border controls would be among the strictest in the world, the government said.

I made the decision to head back to the Land of the Long White Cloud as soon as possible because I knew, based on those measures, that airlines operating international services to New Zealand would seriously struggle to keep flights open at all. The next day I was flying towards my home country, after a short transit at Tokyo’s Narita airport.

 

Andy tries out online school with a local primary school student in Shanghai.  Photo courtesy of the author

Andy with his cat at his Shanghai  flat. Photo courtesy of the author

 

My flight from Japan down to New Zealand was with Air New Zealand, who were shockingly ill-prepared for a world under the threat of novel coronavirus.

Not a single member of the crew wore masks, or goggles, or any other protection. Having said that, neither did most of the passengers who, I assume, were mostly Kiwis returning home.

At around 8am the next morning we landed in Auckland, and were among the first entering the country under the new quarantine measures. “Are you ready for two weeks stuck inside?” an Air New Zealand crew member joked.

I was about to be sorely disappointed with my country’s preparedness.

My first sight was two men handing out COVID-19 brochures, without masks or gloves or any other protection. I filled in the form and then went for my health screening. “Have you been feeling unwell at all?” the woman asked without even reading the form I filled out. I would have thought she might have been a bit more thorough since I had just come from China. “No,” I replied. She gave me a form on self-isolation and sent me through, all in just five seconds.

On my return to China I once again stopped in Tokyo, Japan after a flight from Auckland on Air New Zealand. Again, not a single crew member wore protective gear. They served food, they joked with passengers, they helped people with their bags.

That was a far cry from the scene on my Spring Airlines flight to Shanghai, where the crew wore full protective gear during the entire flight. In Shanghai I was put through a myriad of steps before being allowed to enter, including an interview about my health and where I’d been, and my temperature being taken half a dozen times.

After that I was bussed to a community health clinic in Jing’an District, where I live, for a novel coronavirus test. We slept eight hours on the bus waiting for our turn, and waited another 14 hours in the clinic before finally being allowed to go home for quarantine.

That, compared with a five second question in Auckland.

I made a video about my experience and it went viral, with well over one million views on Facebook alone, as well as mentions in New Zealand media. Soon after that, the Prime Minister announced the entire country would be locked down for four weeks.

That was great news, since I’m sure it’s the only way our small country can defeat the onslaught of novel coronavirus. I was certain that our government wouldn’t take such strong measures, but I’m so relieved they did.

One problem remains, though, and that’s Kiwis’ attitudes to wearing face masks. In Asia and many places around the world, face masks have been the defining image of the battle against COVID-19. In New Zealand, they are not being recommended at all.

This is probably because of New Zealand’s small population, and the ability for people to normally maintain one-meter distance, but there are some situations where wearing a mask is proven to be very important.

According to New Zealand’s own Ministry of Health, that includes situations where a minimum distance of one meter cannot be maintained, case in point: on planes.

Air New Zealand recently announced that eight of their staff have tested positive for COVID-19, and I’m not at all surprised. The very day New Zealand entered lockdown, Air New Zealand were still flying Kiwis home, and even in the midst of the novel coronavirus outbreak around the world, Air New Zealand crew were still not fully protected. Some wore masks, some didn’t.

I am proud of our government for enacting such strict lockdown measures across the entire country, measures that are even more serious than Shanghai ever had. But there is still a huge gap in the understanding of the importance of wearing masks and gloves, especially in situations where close contact is needed. I will continue to push for change, and hope it comes before people die.